May 24, 2013

Severe Climate Change

CSIS-CNAS: Security Implications of Climate Change

Scenario Overview

Time Span: 30 Years
Warming: 2.6°C
Sea Level Rise: 0.52 meters
“[Tipping] point” events such as the abrupt release of massive quantities of methane from melting tundra or of carbon dioxide as the sea warms up [contribute to abrupt and accelerating changes and impacts:]

  • Dynamical changes in polar ice sheets accelerate rapidly [leading to] high confidence that the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets have … destabilized and that 4 to 6 meters of sea level rise are now inevitable over the next few centuries …

  • Water availability [falls drastically] at lower latitudes (dry tropics and subtropics), affecting 1 to 2 billion people worldwide.
    The North Atlantic overturning circulation slows significantly, with consequences for marine ecosystem productivity and fisheries.

  • Crop yields decline significantly in the fertile river deltas because of sea level rise and damage from increased storm surges.
    Agriculture becomes essentially nonviable in the dry subtropics [because of dwindling water supplies,] soil salinization [and enhanced] evaporation of water from irrigated fields.
    [Desertification takes] previously marginally productive crop lands out of production.

(p 72, italics added)

  • Global fisheries are affected by
    • widespread coral bleaching,
    • ocean acidification,
    • substantial loss of coastal nursery wetlands, and
    • warming and drying of tributaries that serve as breeding grounds for anadromous fish.

  • The Arctic Ocean is now navigable for much of the year because of decreased Arctic sea ice and the Arctic marine ecosystem is dramatically altered.
    Developing nations at lower latitudes are impacted most severely because of climate sensitivity and high vulnerability.
    Industrialized nations … experience net harm from warming and [are forced spend an increasing proportion] of GDP adapting to climate change at home.

[This scenario depicts] possible societal consequences of severe climate change over the course of thirty years.
These consequences are not to be taken as predictions [but are] intended to encourage reflection about the [plausible] consequences of continued inaction.
(p 73)

Systemic Events

[Massive] nonlinear events in the global environment [could] give rise to massive nonlinear societal events. …

  • We could see class warfare as the wealthiest members of every society pull away from the rest of the population, undermining the morale and viability of democratic governance, worldwide. …

  • [Global] fish stocks [may] crash. …

(p 76)

  • [The] risk of pandemic explosions of disease [will] increase.

  • As drinkable water becomes scarcer it will become an increasingly commercialized resource.
    Governments, lacking the necessary resources, will privatize supply.
    [In poor societies such measures have provoked] violent protest and political upheaval [in the past.]

  • Human fertility may collapse in economically advanced regions, as the consequence of increasingly difficult living conditions and of general loss of hope for the longer term.

  • [Rapid] economic decline may [occur due] to the collapse of [globalized] financial and production systems that depend on integrated worldwide systems.

  • [Transnational corporations may eclipse] governments as the rich look to private services. …

  • Alliance systems and multilateral institutions may [break down] — among them the UN, as the Security Council fractures beyond compromise or repair.

(p 77)



The Role of Complexity

Regional Sensitivity to Severe Climate Change
Systemic Events


Washington DC.

  • The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change, 5 November, 2007.
    Kurt M Campbell, Jay Gulledge, JR McNeill, John Podesta, Peter Ogden, Leon Fuerth, R James Woolsey, Alexander TJ Lennon, Julianne Smith, Richard Weitz and Derek Mix.


    Leon Fuerth: Research Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University

    The Role of Complexity

    Climate change is a [complex] phenomena [in the sense of being] nonlinear and unstable.
    • “Nonlinear” means that incremental change in the level of inputs to a system can result in major, and even discontinuous changes in the system’s output.
    • “Unstable” means that it is not possible to create a single, normative model for the system’s behavior: instead, modeling must assume the possibility of surprise.
    [A] major premise of this chapter is that nonlinear climate change will produce nonlinear political events.

    [Once] the environment deteriorates beyond some critical point, natural systems that are adapted to it will break down.
    This applies also to social [organizations].
    Beyond a certain level climate change becomes a profound [threat] to the foundations of the global industrial civilization …

    Regional Sensitivity to Severe Climate Change

    [It is expected that] the poorest nations will suffer first and … most deeply from climate change.
    [Nevertheless, this analysis] begins with the wealthiest and strongest societies since it is their responses that will make the difference between [a relatively order transition] and freefall. …

    United States

    Even at linear rates of sea level rise, such as those forecast at the lower range of the scenario, exponentially greater numbers of people would be affected.
    One storm model concludes that what is now a 100-year flooding event in New York City will be a 4-year event with an additional meter of sea level.

    Early on, there will be talk of massive engineering efforts to protect major economic centers along the coasts [—] including oil and gas production in the Gulf.
    In our scenario, however, estimates [worsen abruptly] as science adjusts [to evolving] theory and [accumulating data and] the idea of resisting nature by brute [force] engineering [gives] way to strategic withdrawal combined with a rear guard action to [salvage] the most valuable of our assets.
    Optimists might hope for a gradual relocation of investment and settlement from increasingly vulnerable coastal areas.
    [But, after] a certain point … sudden depopulation may occur.
    (p 72)

    [Drastic, permanent water shortage will undermine] the West Coast’s economic foundations [—] resulting not only from reduced annual rainfall, but also from the disappearance of mountain snow, whose spring melt-off is vital to the entire region’s hydrology.
    The water requirements of the great West Coast cities are already in conflict with the region’s requirements for agriculture.
    In the more destructive ranges of the severe scenario, it would no longer be possible to bridge this conflict through political compromise or adroit water management.
    Political tensions would be severe.

    [Furthermore,] intensified dependence on irrigated farming in the Midwest will result in the accelerated depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, upon which the entire region’s agrarian economies depend.

    [A] greatly increased frequency of region-wide disasters as the result of an increasing number of especially violent storms [could overwhelm] even a well-prepared Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) system …

    As the cumulative magnitude of such damage increases, the federal government would likely leave state governments to shoulder more and more of the burden [and threatening the integrity of the federal system.]
    State governments [such as California,] are already pulling away from federal leadership on the environment. …
    The federal government [—] already fiscally compromised by defense costs in competition with escalating costs [of] maintaining the social contract [— is forced to make drastic tradeoffs to meet the] additional costs entailed by climate change …
    At some point the government’s ability to plan and act proactively [breaks down as] the scale of events begins to overwhelm policies before they can generate appreciable results.
    (p 73)

    Western Hemisphere

    Accumulated stresses owing to severe climate change may cause systemic economic and political collapse in Central and Latin America.
    The collapse of river systems in the western United States, for example, will also have a devastating effect on northern Mexico.
    In Mexico, climate change likely means mass migration from central lowlands to higher ground.
    Immigration from Guatemala and Honduras into southern Mexico … will intensify dramatically.
    [For] the United States … border problems will expand beyond the possibility of control [—] except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then.

    Severe climate change will likely be the deathblow for democratic government throughout Latin America, as impoverishment spirals downward. …
    Some regions will fall entirely and overtly under the control of drug cartels [— much as is already] the case in Colombia.
    Two-thirds of Canadians rely on the Great Lakes …
    Water levels are projected to decline by up to one foot in this century …
    (p 74)

    If the United States [were] to divert water from the Great Lakes to compensate for the effects of climate change [this would lead to a] fundamental clash of interests with Canada. …

    The cumulative effect of all these and related factors will be to render the United States profoundly isolated in the Western Hemisphere:
    • blamed as a prime mover of global disaster; [and]
    • hated for measures it takes in self-protection.


    The [possibility] of a new ice age in Europe caused by the Gulf Stream’s collapse is not an element of [this] climate scenario …
    [Nevertheless, severe] climate change will threaten every major port city in Europe …

    [The] influx of illegal immigrants from Northern Africa and other parts of the continent will accelerate [and] efforts to integrate Muslim communities into the European mainstream will collapse …
    [Extreme] division will become the norm. …

    [The] increasing reaction of Europeans against Islam may alienate the Turkish people, thereby destroying the hoped-for role of Turkey as a bulwark against radical Islam.
    At severe levels of climate change, civil disorder may lead to the suspension of normal legal procedures and rights [and a proliferation of authoritarian governance. …]

    Growing Asian settlement in portions of the Russian Federation will also result in increased friction, specifically with Russia’s rapidly growing Islamic population. …
    [The] antidemocratic legacy of the Putin period will be reinforced.
    Russia will return to its roots — to a czarist-like system in all but name, with the wealth of the country divided among a new “boyar” class as payment for loyalty.
    (p 74)

    This regime will anchor itself ideologically in Russian nationalism, and economically on the basis of a dominant energy position, which it will exploit aggressively. …

    Rising sea levels and accentuated storm systems will threaten China’s industrialized coastal regions.
    Chinese economic growth will suffer as a result of the accelerated loss of land fertility due to salinization of river deltas, compounding shortages of arable land lost to urbanization.
    Decreased rainfall will accelerate China’s already critical shortage of water [both for domestic and] industrial purposes.
    [It] will also find itself in direct confrontation with Japan and even the United States over access to fish, at a time when all major fisheries will likely have crashed as the result of today’s unsustainable fishing practices, combined with the ongoing, worldwide [destruction] of wetlands.

    Indian Subcontinent

    As glaciers melt the regions bounding the Indus and Ganges Rivers will experience severe flooding.
    Once the ice-packs are gone the floods will be replaced by profound and protracted drought.
    The inland backflow of salt water, caused by higher sea levels, will contaminate low-lying, fertile delta regions.
    [New] and intense environmental pressures will [threaten] the survival of Indian democracy …

    Currently, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal are engaged in water disputes with India. …
    Climate change will exacerbate these tensions.
    [Pakistan may be forced to] resort to desperate measures [to achieve] water security.

    North Africa and the Middle East

    Morocco may be destabilized as a result of drought-induced failure of that country’s hydroelectric power system and its irrigation-based agriculture.
    (p 75)

    War between Israel and Jordan over access to water is conceivable.
    Moreover, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey are likely to be enmeshed in an escalating struggle over the latter’s command of waters feeding the Tigris/Euphrates systems.
    In the Gulf countries there will be a rapid expansion of nuclear power for desalinization.
    This will, in turn, become a contributing factor in the regional proliferation of nuclear weapons …

    Rising sea levels will cause extensive damage to … the Nile Delta …

    Sub-Sahara and the Horn of Africa

    In sub-Saharan Africa, hundreds of millions of already vulnerable persons will be exposed to intensified threat of death by disease, malnutrition, and strife. …
    … South Africa, will be affected not only by internal social and economic stress related to changing climatic patterns, but also by southward flows of refugees hoping for rescue and safety. …
    From one end of the African continent to the other, severe climate change will become the common denominator of turbulence and destruction.
    (p 76)

    Systemic Events

    Moral Consequences

    Massive social upheaval will be accompanied by intense religious and ideological turmoil …
    For this purpose … certain kinds of political doctrine may be thought of as religious. …
    [The] “losers” are likely to be those [with] the closest associations with the secular world and with scientific rationalism.
    Among political systems, [populist] authoritarian ideologies would certainly be the “winners.”


    Severe climate change will put additional stress on all systems of social support.
    Already tenuous health care systems may collapse.
    Vulnerability to new forms of disease will increase.
    In some regions the process may resemble the abrupt [regional dieoffs seen in the historical times. …]
    Preemptive desertion of urban civilization will occur.
    (p 77)

    Survival and Reconstruction

    The consequences of even relatively low-end global climate change include the loosening and disruption of societal networks.
    At higher ranges of the spectrum, chaos awaits.
    The question is: [will] a threat of this magnitude … dishearten humankind, or cause it to rally in a … generational struggle for survival and reconstruction? …

    An effective response to the challenge of global warming … must be set in place in the next decade [for it to] have any [meaningful chance of success. …]

    Globalization will have to be redirected.
    It cannot continue forever in its present form, based on an insatiable consumption of resources.
    The combined demands of China and India alone cannot be satisfied in a world already heavily burdened by the consumption patterns of the United States, Europe, and Japan.

    Levels of demand will have to be brought into line with the availability of resources.
    This can occur either as the result of the collapse of the present system, or by its purposeful reconfiguration.


    [The] reduction of humankind’s burden on the environment can occur as the result of
    • deteriorating physical conditions and attendant pandemics [and/or]
    • war and its aftermath.
    [Nuclear] war cannot be excluded as a political consequence of global warming. …
    [It is worth remembering that] a single submarine armed with ballistic missiles [is] capable of destroying a nation of continental size.

    The alternative … is to reduce them by demographic management. …
    Today, advanced states use macroeconomic techniques to manage their economies …
    [Tomorrow, they may need] macro-techniques to manage reproductive choice [to achieve viable population] targets.
    (p 78)

    [If] the alternative is truly ruinous, what is presently unthinkable may wind up on the table. …

    Climate change [mandates] a permanent shift in the relationship of humankind to nature.
    Since we … have attained the power to alter natural cycles we are now accountable for regulating our impact upon them.
    [We] must improve the capacity of governance [to deal with complex issues] through
    • earlier recognition and response to important challenges;
    • deeper awareness of interactions across substantive and bureaucratic boundaries; and
    • the ability to organize and execute policy … over extended [time frames.]
    Finding and applying the necessary political and governmental innovations is [a daunting task — but one] within our capabilities …
    (p 79)

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